Firecrackers and Accidental Overdoses

I used to believe that the phrase “accidental overdose” was used to protect families when someone commits suicide. Turns out, it’s really pretty easy. I’ve done it. Twice. It’s why I decided to approach my illness as a scientist, not a victim.

***

I could not sleep.

It had been days.

In the four years since my depression diagnosis, I’d been on dozens of medications. And still I was spiralling out of control. I had no idea that my affliction was actually bipolar disorder, and that most of the drugs I’d been taking were making things worse. Much, much worse.

I sat on the sofa in the front room, typing frantically to my online support group. The doctor had told me that the new medication would help me sleep. So, after three days without sleep, I took an extra dose. Two hours later, I took another dose. I became more and more wired. I took another dose, and waited to be knocked into oblivion. 

I began to sweat, soon soaking my plaid pyjama shirt. I heard scratches at the wooden front door, and stumbled to the foyer to come face to face with a wolf on the porch. The entire house pitched left and right as I crawled back to the couch and tried in vain to slow my racing heartbeat with measured breaths and delusions of calm.

The thumping of my heart pounded in my ears, my veins throbbing against my skin as I shivered and shook. I tried to count the beats of my heart but lost track before I got to ten seconds and had to start again. I knew it was high, way too high. Dangerously high.

And then my thighs turned to concrete. I could no longer bend my legs. I prayed that I wouldn’t die. I prayed that I would.

In the emergency room, the residents gathered around me like a rare new toy. They tried to force my limbs this way and that, but my body was in the throes of serotonin syndrome. The medication that was intended to bring me chemical balance had triggered manic symptoms, and in stupidly trying to out-medicate an illness I did not yet understand, I’d come perilously close to killing myself.

So began my quest to understand absolutely everything about everything to do with my illness and its treatments. But you can’t prepare for something you don’t even know is happening.

***

Ten years later, insomnia was still my nemesis. My diagnosis had been amended to bipolar disorder, and my medications had been adjusted accordingly. Sleep (and lack thereof) was still the best predictor of my mood and a sustained lack thereof usually preceded an episode of severe mania or depression.

I became hyper-aware of the sleep I was or wasn’t getting. Tracking my sleeping patterns, maintaining a predictable routine and using decent sleep hygiene became critical components in my anti-crazy toolkit.

Pacific walrus laughing at humans on drugsWhen my brain needed chemical assistance to shut the f*ck up so I could sleep, I was prescribed an anti-psychotic medication known affectionately as The Walrus. And dancing with The Walrus was always good for a laugh.

This medication dissolves under your tongue, which means its effects are felt almost immediately. It also means that if you get back out of bed after that threshold, you’re sleepwalking while stoned. In this altered state, I have ordered random bizarre things online (you’re welcome, Amazon), made a grilled cheese sandwich, told my boyfriend I was taking a drive to see my dead grandmother, sent emails in gibberish, and other fun activities that I have no memory of when I wake up the following morning.

(There’s an entire internet subculture dedicated to the weird sh*t people do while dancing with The Walrus. I believe one guy ordered a goat. Or maybe a llama. Surprise overnight free shipping on all livestock!)

The general dose of The Walrus is 5mg. Maximum recommended adult dose is 10mg. My prescription was for double that, and it was just barely keeping me asleep for longer than three hours.

And that’s when things get screwy. That’s when you listen to Walrus Logic.

According to Walrus Logic, if you are awake at 3:00 a.m., you must need more time to dance with The Walrus. If you’ve already taken four, Walrus Logic says you should take at least two more. At least two; maybe another four.

You wake up the following day feeling like a sack of rotting potatoes. By the time your eyes can focus on the time, you’ve probably given up on that day existing in any meaningful form.

The only reason I can confirm that taking The Walrus leads to taking more Walrus is the pile of silver foil squares on my nightstand the morning after. I could quite easily – disturbingly easily – take four or six more without making a conscious choice about returning to being conscious.

I could have gone to bed to sleep, and danced myself to death. When I have The Walrus in the house, I have to keep the box locked up. If they weren’t so goddamn effective, I’d have banned them from my pharmaceutical lock box long ago. Sadly, waltzing with The Walrus is a great way to get to sleep when everything else fails.

It’s also a great way to accidentally kill yourself. The Walrus could convince you to take other drugs in addition to more Walrus. It might encourage you to raid the liquor cabinet. Or take a drive to the sea shore.

I consider myself a reasonably intelligent human being, but I don’t stand a chance against The Walrus.

***

I would like to point out that there are some things you cannot return to Amazon for any reason. If you find yourself dating The Walrus, for the sake of your credit rating and your pride, turn off your wi-fi before you take him to bed.

***

Medication will always be a part of my life. When I say I am a chemistry experiment, I’m only half kidding. Because it is all a grand experiment, and it is fundamental chemistry.

Wouldn’t it be fascinating if a firecracker could describe the way it feels when its various chemical ingredients combine to create such marvellous colours? Or if you could peel back the moist towel over a ball of rising dough and have that dough explain the sensations it endures as the yeast works its magic?

It’s my job to be a firecracker. It’s my job to articulate how chemistry changes me and my colours, so I can learn the combinations that keep me well without altering who I am (much). And that keep me from accidentally exploding in anyone’s face.

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